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Canaries leaving the coal mines …

February 12th, 2009 · 5 Comments

Well, not exactly, but birds are heading north for the ‘summer’ of Global Warming. The Audobon Society just released a report, Birds and Climate Change: Ecological Disruption in Motion (pdf),

Analysis of four decades of Christmas Bird Count observations reveal that birds seen in North America during the first weeks of winter have moved dramatically northward—toward colder latitudes—over the past four decades. Significant northward movement occurred among 58% of the observed species—177 of 305. More than 60 moved in excess of 100 miles north, while the average distance moved by all studied species—including those that did not reflect the trend—was 35 miles northward.

There was also movement inland, from warmer coastal states into areas not long accustomed to winter temperatures suitable for their new arrivals.

The extreme case: the Purple Finch, which used to celebrate the holidays in Springfield, Missouri, and now can be found around Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Will the media report?

While the AP has written a story on the Audobon society report, we have reason to wonder whether this study will make it into the traditional media and, if so, anywhere near the front pages. Actually, “Audobon society” and stories about birds in our backyards might just do this, but there is real reason to be concerned.

The American media continues its sad legacy of under and misreporting on climate change. It is hard to find a US outlet linking Australia’s “Hell and High Water” to Global Warming even though these very sorts of extreme drought/fire events in one area of Australia and floods elsewhere are exactly in line with Australian government studies, including ones published just last year. And, even though there are scientists prepared to make strong statements:

The Washington Post story:

Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. Government research shows about half of the roughly 60,000 fires each year are deliberately lit or suspicious. Lightning and people using machinery near dry brush are other causes.

Sure, just another normal fire season, with lunatics and criminals out with matches. If only we had better police enforcement and, perhaps, restricted lighter sales this problem in that far away land wouldn’t be an issue.

From the AFP, on the other hand had this as their lead:

Australia is naturally the most fire-prone continent on earth but climate change appears to be making the wildfires that regularly sweep across the country more ferocious, scientists said Monday.

And, one of those scientists …

“I would compare this current bushfire event to one of the ghosts in Dickens’ Christmas Carol that visits Scrooge and showed him what his future would be like if he didn’t change his ways,” said professor Barry Brook, director of the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability at the University of Adelaide.

Good for you Barry. The only issue, however, is that we aren’t seeing the ghost, this is reality. The warning is that this ‘rare’ (1000+ year event) could become a normal situation with unchecked catastrophic climate change.

Sadly, few Americans will hear this warning or be provided a reasoned explanation of what is going on around the globe due to global warming and humanity’s actions. Considering the ‘ungreening’ of the already just ‘light green’ stimulus package, it is hard to see (at times) the political momentum for necessary change. Yet, change we must or else … Thus, the question: Will we change our ways?

Nature isn’t waiting for the answer

We are changing the world around us. Whether contrails in the sky or increased CO2 in every part of the air we breath (whether in Antarctica or walking your kids to school), we are changing the world around us in seen and unseen ways. And, in the face of the End of Nature, nature is responding in ways that we (whether scientists or individual citizens) are now documenting in ever more conclusive manners.

For decades, the Audobon society has called on members (and other volunteers) to survey birds during the Christmas season. Over those 40 years, the average January temperature in North America has risen by 5 degrees fahrenheit. And, this well-run and wide-spread citizen collected data shows that birds are reacting to the thermometer rise. (See this AP map (not posted for copyright reasons).)

What are some of the example species:

Purple Finch: A frequent visitor to bird feeders, this colorful bird, which is frequently confused with the more common House Finch, is an “irruptive species,” meaning that it winters far to the south in some winters and farther north in others. As temperatures have increased in recent years, however, the birds have not gone as far south during their irruptions – resulting in overall northward movement of over 433 miles in the last 40 years.

433 miles or, well, seven hours and 13 minutes driving at 60 miles per hour. Just seven hours by car, what should we care?

Spruce Grouse: This grouse of open evergreen forests relies year-round on northern habitat in Canada, Alaska, and the northern edge of the contiguous United States. Spending most of its time on the ground, except in winter when it favors pine or spruce trees, the species dines primarily on pine or spruce needles. With approximately 316 miles of northward movement, it is reported much more frequently by CBC participants in Alaska than was the case 40 years ago, while Montana observers are less likely to see it than in past seasons.

Sigh, don’t the Spruce Goose’s know that it is reckless to fly into Alaskan air space with Sarah “Energy Expert” Palin in charge there?

In any event, who cares about 316 miles, after all, Howard Hughes could have flown that distance in less than an hour.

Nature in changing in the face of climate change

The evidence is staring us in the face. Global Warming is not just about being able to bike in shorts in February (okay, as long as I can forget about why its happening, it can be really enjoyable to have a warm day in winter). Global Warming is not just about rising sea levels. Nor just about increased droughts and major fires. Nor about more violent storms and flooding. Nor just about disrupted weather patterns. Nor just about disrupted agriculture. Nor just about changed bird migration and habitation patterns. We (you, I, all of US and all humanity) are conducting humanity’s the largest scientific experiment ever, using our own habitat (the earth) as the test tube. And, the data collection is coming in every day to show that the changes are multifaceted, are increasing in rate of change, and that the complexity of the interaction of change is perhaps, quite literally, beyond our ability to conceive and understand.

The birds are moving north … for winter. They have moved hundreds of miles. Evidently they will run out of miles to move. Will we act to turn back the rising tides of Global Warming’s menacing seas before time and space runs out?

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Tags: climate change · Global Warming · journalism

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